Dr. Stacey Camp and Dr. Ethan Watrall Awarded National Park Service Grant

Photos of Dr. Camp and Dr. Watrall
Dr. Stacey Camp, left, and Dr. Ethan Watrall, right.

Associate Professors Stacey Camp and Ethan Watrall were awarded a three-year National Park Service Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) grant for $379,017 to develop The Internment Archaeology Digital Archive (IADA). The IADA is an open digital archive that will host, preserve, and provide broad public access to digitized collections of archaeological materials, archival documents, oral histories, and ephemera that speak to the experiences of Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II in the United States. This digital archive will focus on two sites of WWII incarceration located in Idaho: (1) the Minidoka National Historic Site, where the Minidoka War Relocation Center incarcerated over 9,000 predominantly Japanese American citizens and (2) the Kooskia Internment Camp, a Department of Justice prison that incarcerated over 260 Japanese American men deemed “alien enemies” by the U.S. government.

This project is a collaboration with MSU’s internationally recognized Matrix: The Center for Digital Humanities & Social Sciences, where Dr. Watrall also serves as Associate Director. In developing the digital archive, Dr. Camp and Dr. Watrall will take advantage of the Department of Anthropology’s Digital Heritage Imaging and Innovation Lab to do 3D scans of archaeological material, which will be accessible on the IADA website. 

The IADA will make a critical intervention in the preservation and interpretation of the digital record of WWII incarceration in several important ways. First, the IADA will be the only digital archive of its kind to disseminate, interpret, and make legible archaeological and material culture from sites of WWII Japanese American incarceration. Unlike censored photographs and governmental documents that present an incomplete or biased picture of the internment and incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII, archaeology provides a unique window into the actual material realities of prisoners’ lives. In its focus on the archaeological record, the IADA will use several crosscutting themes to interpret and contextualize the archaeological data and materials from sites of incarceration, including recreation and leisure, dining and foodways, healthcare, and education.

Image of “Men playing game at Kooskia”, Kooskia Internment Camp Scrapbook courtesy of University of Idaho Library, Digital Initiatives

Second, the IADA will contribute insight into the lives of first-generation Japanese migrants, also known as Issei, who are largely neglected in historic and archival records. Issei were unable to naturalize due to the exclusionary immigration laws of the time and, as non-citizens and important members of the Japanese American community prior to the war, were seen as a threat by the U.S. government. They were consequently considered prisoners of war and treated as such. The IADA will provide a mechanism to compare the experiences of Japanese American non-citizen Issei at the Kooskia prison, which has been studied archivally and archaeologically by Dr. Camp since 2009, with the experiences of Japanese American citizens imprisoned at the Minidoka War Relocation Center.

While the IADA is primarily designed to address the immediate needs of Kooskia and Minidoka’s descent communities, Japanese Americans, and scholars of Asian American studies and incarceration, the project’s audience extends well beyond these groups to the general public. The project’s long-term goal is to provide a platform for the inclusion of archaeological collections from other sites of confinement and incarceration.

This project continues the Department of Anthropology’s longstanding focus on research and teaching in the domain of digital cultural heritage and archaeology.

Established in 2006, the National Park Service’s JACS grant program is focused on the preservation and interpretation of U.S. confinement sites where Japanese Americans were detained during WWII.

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